'Consenting Adults': Questions take some of the thrill out of thriller

April 09, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

CONSENTING ADULTS

(Hollywood Pictures, rated R, 1992)

One way to gauge a good thriller is by counting the number of questions it leaves unanswered. Another is the number of improbable situations that make you say aloud, "Oh, c'mon."

Although there aren't many of the latter in "Consenting Adults," there are too many of the former to rank this Alan J. Pakula film alongside his better thrillers, such as "Klute," "The Parallax View" and "All the President's Men." It's more on the scale of his more recent, "Presumed Innocent."

The plot and characters are quite engaging. Kevin Kline and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play Richard and Priscilla Parker, a typically 1980s conservative suburbanite career couple who are

just beginning to feel the emptiness of their jobs and marriage (she more than he), when a vibrant young couple, Eddy and Kay Otis (Kevin Spacey and Rebecca Miller), move in next door. The couples become fast friends, and Richard even begins to feel a spark of lust for Kay, whom he occasionally sees undressing through the window.

But Richard is such an honorable sort that he not only refuses to act on his fantasies but angrily breaks off his friendship with Eddy when Eddy suggests that he and Richard sneak into each other's beds one night so they can secretly enjoy each other's spouse.

Here's where things get most interesting -- and disappointing. Priscilla is angry with Richard for breaking off the friendship, so instead of explaining why he did so, Richard thinks he's giving Priscilla what she wants by agreeing to the wife-swap deal.

To tell you more would be to ruin the suspense and give away some plot twists, but there are numerous similar cases in which you ask yourself, "Why didn't he just tell her?" Forest Whitaker is enjoyable as an insurance-company investigator, and the principle murder scheme is so ingenious that you'll enjoy this ride even if it isn't as completely satisfying as others you've

experienced.

TRACES OF RED

(HBO, rated R, 1992)

James Belushi has proved to be a fairly versatile film performer, able to handle serious and comedic supporting gigs in "Salvador" and "About Last Night . . .," hold his own against the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Red Heat" and stand alone heading comedies ("Curly Sue"), light action films ("K-9") and even slightly weightier fare ("The Principal").

Until now.

Although the role of maverick, smart-aleck homicide detective Jack Dobson would seem to be one of his easier challenges, Mr. Belushi delivers some downright bad acting. He isn't alone.

Lorraine Bracco, who showed promise in "GoodFellas" and "Medicine Man," is even worse than Mr. Belushi, having inexplicably adopted a wee, high-pitched Melanie Griffith voice that is annoying from Ms. Griffith but laughable from Ms. Bracco.

That brings us to the third actor, Tony Goldwyn, who does better than his counterparts. The producers wisely play on the audiences' continued distrust of the seemingly strait-laced Mr. Goldwyn, which was vividly implanted with his slimy character in "Ghost."

Here Mr. Goldwyn plays Dobson's partner, Steven Frayne. Both begin to suspect each other during an investigation of a serial killing of beautiful young women (of course), some of whom Dobson has slept with. Cleverly complicating matters is Frayne's growing attraction to Mr. Belushi's mysterious, and perhaps jealous, socialite girlfriend, Ellen Schofield (Ms. Bracco).

The bad acting is unfortunate because this is otherwise a fairly intriguing thriller that will keep you off balance guessing the identity of the killer. In addition to Frayne, Dobson and Schofield, there are several other legitimate suspects, including Dobson's politician brother.

*

Vid tip: Can't get enough celebrity nudity? The 47 seconds of footage that had to be cut from "Basic Instinct" to avoid an NC-17 rating has been restored to a special edition being released this week. The director's cut, priced at $49.98 on cassette and $69.95 on laser disc, also includes interviews with stars Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas and director Paul Verhoeven.

And, in a few months, video customers will also get the "Xtra" scenes that had to be cut from Madonna's "Body of Evidence" for the same reason.

*

Vid tip 2: Just as Disney released its first video reissue, Pinocchio," last week, after placing it in mothballs more than six years ago, the company has put "Beauty and the Beast" and "101 Dalmatians" into indefinite hibernation this week. "The Rescuers," "The Rescuers Down Under" and "The Great Mouse Detective" will also be withdrawn from distribution by Disney on April 30.

*

Laser tip: Two of Jon Voight's finest performances can be enjoyed anew on recent and overdue wide-screen laser-disc releases:

"Deliverance" (Warner, $34.98), is a 20-year-old river adventure that is as harrowing today as it was then, and remains Burt Reynolds' finest effort. (Ned Beatty says he has spent the past 20 years defending his masculinity to strangers who taunt him as result of the rape scene.) The foot-stompin' "Dueling Banjos" sequence is electronically indexed for convenient multiple replays.

Hal Ashby's forever powerful "Coming Home" (MGM, $39.98) features a benchmark performance of rage and intense disillusionment by Bruce Dern and the best 1960s soundtrack (outside of "The Big Chill"); it cannot be purchased separately. The impact of Tim Buckley's "Once I Was" and the Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" in this context and in this digital stereo recording is nearly devastating.

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